Chapter 1

It hurt to move. That made no sense on one level but did on another. My feet hurt and my back hurt. If I had fallen, my back might hurt. Why did my feet hurt? What had happened to me?

I had been walking to meet Robin for lunch. I had come down the elevator and walked outside onto the busy Atlanta street. I figured that I must have fallen but the ground beneath my hands was dirt. There was no dirt outside the office building, just paved sidewalk and paved street!

I shook my head as I began to rise. That was a mistake. Add the back of my head to those parts of my body that hurt. I also couldn't see. It was a bright fall day in Atlanta and now it was dark. I had stepped outside to join the lunch crowd. Where was everybody? I could hear sounds but they weren't city sounds. Again, I wondered what had happened to me?

Without lifting my head, I slowly pushed my arms straight rising up to my hands and knees. This wasn't pavement! Very slowly, I looked around not really expecting to see anything but I did. There were trees and it seemed that the moon was shining through the leaves and branches. Okay, I wasn't blind. That was a relief but what had happened to me?

My head cleared some and I decided that going up to my hands and knees had worked so maybe standing up would work. I slowly put pressure on my feet which were quite painful for some reason. I stood but my feet hurt so bad that I decided to sit down. I did and made the mistake of leaning against a tree. I quickly rolled to my stomach in agony. My back hurt badly like it had been burned by much more than the worst sunburn I could remember. What had happened to me?

I rolled to my side away from the tree trunk and felt my feet. The tops of my shoes were there but the bottom of my shoes and most of the bottoms of my socks were gone and the skin was tender and hot to the touch What had happened to me?

I looked at my watch and pressed the light button. It lit up with its usual glow and showed that no more than five minutes had passed from the time I got off the elevator. The date and day were the same. I now had a fact to which I could cling. Almost no time had passed from going out of the building until I woke or regained consciousness. It had been noon and now it was dark. That was a second fact. A third fact occurred to me. I was in a forest among trees on dirt rather than downtown Atlanta on pavement. What had happened to me?

I felt the bottom of my feet. The soles felt hot and burned. I rolled up again careful not to lay back. My pants felt loose and I reached back to realize that my belt and part of the back of my pants were missing. The edges of my pants and belt felt crisp like they had been burned. What had happened to me?

That thought appearing again brought with it another. Where was I? I wasn't in downtown Atlanta so where was I? The pain was bothering me so I decided to lay down on my side and rest for a while. Wandering around in the dark while in pain didn't make much sense. I drifted off to sleep with the question still going through my mind, "What had happened to me?"

I woke to warm sun shining on my face. I slowly rolled from my side sitting up slowly. I could see! What I saw was not heartening. As far as I could see in any direction, there were hardwood trees. This was not Georgia because I saw not one pine. I was hungry and thirsty. Looking at my watch, I saw that almost eight hours had passed. I did feel refreshed though I shouldn't have been tired in the first place.

I looked myself over. Starting at my feet, I saw that the tops of my shoes and socks were still there but that the soles of my shoes and most of the sock bottoms were gone. My pants were loose and I remembered that I found the belt gone from the back along with some of the cloth of the pants. The back of my shirt was gone. I touched the back of my head and it felt like the hair at the back of my head had been burned off. What ever occurred just missed burning me seriously though it was still painful. What had happened to me?

I looked ahead and saw that the tree near me had a burned place on it that was smooth. I felt it and it felt smooth like it had been shaved with a burning hot blade. It made no sense. To my right, was a hand. I looked over at it and it was burned off at the wrist. After a few minutes of sitting up, I decided to remove my socks and shoes and try to find food, water, or people. I didn't want to go far unless someone was searching for me though how they might possibly know where to look was beyond my comprehension. I did that and stood carefully. I could see farther but it didn't matter. It was still just trees. I began to slowly walk forward and wondered again, "What had happened to me?"

I pulled my phone from my pocket. It had charge but no signal. This was not good. I was in an area with no cellphone coverage. I put in back in my pocket. I checked my other pockets and found my wallet, a handkerchief and comb, some change, my keys, a butane lighter, and a pocket knife. The last two were probably the most useful of all of it though I hoped not.

Up ahead, the land sloped down. I remembered my old boy scout training and followed the land downhill looking for water. I found a small creek, knelt, and drank. I drank slowly but steadily. It felt good since I had become very thirsty. I could stand more easily now though my feet still hurt It was weird. Except for my presence, the world had a normal, but empty, feel to it. But, what had happened to me?

I could see the tree in the distance that had the piece missing. I pulled my pocket knife out and made a cut in the nearest tree to give me a clue to look for if or when I returned. I walked down the creek following its flow. Water always flowed toward more water and water usually meant people though, right now, one direction looked as good as any other. What had happened to me?

I walked in the water because it felt really good to the soles of my feet. I stepped carefully. I didn't want to slip and fall. The coolness of the creek water helped my feet. I walked most of an hour and decided to stop and rest. I removed my clothing and laid it on the ground. I went into the water and lay down letting it flow over my body. It cooled my back and felt good. As I lay there, I listened. There was no sound other than birds and insects. Wherever this place might be, it was a distance from people. It was too quiet by far. No noises of machinery could be heard Where was I? What had happened to me?

Suddenly, I realized that my thoughts had become raggedly strident and I bottled them up. The questions still needed to be answered but I would have to wait for the answers and not try to force them. I then tried whistling and humming but stopped. It was jarring to the quiet. I decided it was time to move on. I rose and allowed my body to drip dry. While I was drying, I took the remains of my shirt and rolled and tied it into a makeshift belt. It was a hassle to thread it through my belt loops but, at least now, my pants weren't trying to fall down as I moved. I traveled on down the creek. I sort of hoped I would find people but was also a bit afraid that I would find bad news.

I am not the timid type. I am twenty-three, a fresh graduate of Georgia Tech with a mechanical engineering degree. I had been physically active all my life. My dad was a hunter and fisher and I loved the outdoors as much as he. My mother died of cancer when I was four leaving just the two of us and we had faced the world together. Dad was a machinist and he loved things mechanical. I picked up on that, too. We worked together on my cars and his as well as the house and boats. He felt he could fix anything and I picked up that attitude and carried it with me in my journey through school and into the workplace.

As I walked, I saw a straight branch that I cut off with my knife. Walking further, I whittled at one end to make a point and cleaned off the smaller twigs making it smooth as I could. I don't know why I made a spear but I felt better with it than before. I didn't know where I was going or what I might find but now thought that I was better prepared.

I had walked for hours and was becoming very hungry. Breakfast had been early this morning about sixteen hours ago with nothing since. I had seen nothing to eat but knew that food would become an issue in time. At least I had water which was good.

It was late afternoon and I had covered maybe ten miles. I looked around for a place to camp for the night. I found a place that was protected and out of obvious sight. I gathered some wood and started a small fire for warmth with the lighter. I was hungry but wouldn't suffer for days yet. I went to sleep reasonably close to the fire with a shield behind me. As I slept, I continued to wonder, "What had happened to me?"

I woke up the next morning really hungry. At least, my body thought that. I knew better. I could go without food for a few days yet but decided that doing a little hunting would be worthwhile. I did not know of any immediate appointments that required my presence. I thought of and quickly discarded the idea of fishing. I had nothing with which to catch fish other than hands and spear. I had tried spearing fish when I was younger and knew, from that experience, that there were better ways to waste energy. While hand catching occurs in the south, I had never done it and this wasn't the time to learn.

I sharpened my spear and went in search of game watching for a trail to cross my creek. I traveled for about a mile and saw ahead a field with a game trail that crossed my creek. I went into stealth mode and crept up to a vantage point. If anything was there, I didn't want to scare it off.

I got the bunny! It seemed to never have known man as it had no fear of me. I was close enough to thrust rather than throw which was probably good. I hadn't practiced throwing the spear and had no idea how it would fly if I did throw it.

I returned to my camp site and dressed the rabbit. Skinning it took some real effort but I got the job finished. I washed in the creek and began to cook the rabbit on a stick. Even without seasoning, it tasted good. I ate half and set the rest aside for supper. Making some wooden utensils was on my list along with some other things like fish hooks and a bowl. I figured to start. Another thing to search out would be some rocks for fire starting. I wanted to find some flint because my lighter would not last forever. I didn't know how long I might have to stay and I still wondered what had happened to me.

It had been a long, but productive, day as I accomplished many of my goals. I now had a wooden bowl and a spoon. I had found some quartz but no granite or flint. I had gone down to the trail and watched it while whittling my bowl and spoon and it proved to be a fairly busy thoroughfare for wildlife. There were deer, plenty of rabbits, and a few foxes. I still had not seen any sign of people other than my own tracks and leavings which would soon be erased by the action of nature.

My camp was comfortable and I stayed three more days. I improved my spear and made a second lighter one that would and did throw well. On the second day, I used it to bag a small deer. I skinned it out carefully preserving the skin and the sinew. I had never made a bow but had read up on it years ago. From my reading, I knew that deer tendons would make good bowstrings. The skin would be moccasins some day though they wouldn't last.

I looked at the trees that never changed. They were hardwoods but were not a species with which I was familiar. I rested up letting my back heal some more and changed into my outdoors mindset which was more suitable for my current circumstances. In the back of my mind and occasionally at the forefront, I wondered what had happened to me.

Finally, I left my camp and continued downstream searching for people. I continued to follow the creek figuring that was my best bet for finding people and for returning to my original spot if I wanted to do so.

In the distance, I began to hear sounds like people but not the sounds that suggested cars, trucks, or machinery. It was the sound of one man with an axe. For some reason, I didn't rush out. I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and moved to one side of the creek continuing forward quietly Up ahead, the creek bent to my right. I stayed to the inside of the bend so I could see without being seen until I goofed or I wanted to be seen.

The sight that met my eyes was strange and unexpected. On the other side of the creek and around the bend was a cabin and a man in either camouflage or buckskins. I couldn't be sure because of the distance but I had a premonition that it was buckskins. To one side was an X frame and a person was tied to it naked or, at least, they seemed to be. Both of them had long hair worn loose. The person tied looked slimmer than the man. The head was down. It could not have been comfortable tied like that. I decided that I probably wouldn't like the buckskin man. His hair was light, almost white, while the other one's hair was a light brown like mine. I crouched down to watch what was happening and going to happen rather than show myself.

I had moved to be more out of sight and to improve my sight line into the clearing. I could now see a path coming into the clearing on the other side of the cabin. I watched and waited to see what would happen. It troubled me that a person was tied like that. It suggested problems and I wasn't sure I wanted to be part of those problems.

After about half an hour, I began to hear noises from across the way from down the path. The buckskin man grabbed a bow and quiver of arrows and stood ready to receive his visitor or visitors. I was puzzled by the lack of firearms and stayed in place. In a moment, a man came out from the path into the clearing. Buckskin put the bow down and met him with a welcome. They met and clasped shoulders, each man taking his right hand and clasping the shoulder of the other and giving it a firm shake and then releasing. They then went to the porch of the cabin and sat on the edge where the railing would have been if there had been one.

They talked for a while and then both rose and went over to the captive and Buckskin poked at him or her. I could hear a low moan and both laughed. Neither man was tall but appeared to be solidly built. I am six foot, two inches tall and both were under about five foot, nine inches. I couldn't tell anything about the captive's height because of their position.

The stranger left and Buckskin returned to his chores which mainly seemed to be chopping wood. I waited a while longer and saw nothing. I still didn't make myself known. I didn't know why but Buckskin was not, in my mind, a good person. I saw that, if I moved up the creek a bit, I would be shielded from sight and could approach the cabin from behind the captive. I decided to do just that.

I was good in the woods and used my skill in the approach. I was now much closer, being less than a hundred feet away rather than over a hundred yards away and could clearly determine, even from the back, that the captive was female. My guess was she was young but it was difficult to tell. She was naked and tied, that I could tell.

I continued to advance very slowly and carefully. I didn't want to be surprised and did want to get a better idea of the circumstances before revealing myself. I didn't like the idea of a woman being tied to an X frame. There are better ways to treat women.

I was now within fifty feet of the captive and could see lash marks on the back of her body. Buckskin strode up to her and I heard him say something to her. It was not English nor any other language that I had ever heard. The captive shook her head and he backhanded her hard. Her head rocked back with the force of the blow. He spoke loudly some more and then walked off. She groaned and hung limply.

Now, there was no question in my mind. I didn't like Buckskin. I had the feeling though that any change in his behavior would only be through violence. I crept closer to the cabin staying out of sight of Buckskin and the captive. I finally worked my way to the side of the cabin away from the captive and stepped out where Buckskin could see me. He immediately ran for his bow and arrows. I was both closer and faster and stood before him with my handmade spear. He stopped and said something to me which I didn't understand.

I replied, "I don't know what you're saying. Do you speak English?"

His response was to put his head down and charge. I understood that language. I lowered the spear to ready and let him impale himself upon it. I held it firm and then pushed it hard forcing him to his knees and then over as he gasped out his life. I had never killed a person. Even though this was self-defense, it wasn't pretty. He smelled bad and then worse when his bowels and bladder released onto the ground as he died.

I approached the captive who was watching all this carefully. She couldn't tell what I intended. I said, "Do you understand me? English?"

She shook her head and whispered something still in a language I didn't understand. I looked around and saw a bucket of water with dust on the surface. I poured it out while walking to the creek. There, I filled it, found a dipper, and gave her some water. She was younger than I. She was, or would be when cleaned up and healed, a pretty girl.

I said softly, "Don't fight. I will release you. Men don't hold women prisoner this way where I am from." I spoke softly but slowly and distinctly. She looked at me both scared and hopeful. I took out my knife and opened it. Her eyes went wide as she saw it and then saw me cut her bonds. I released her feet first and helped her stand. I then went to one side and cut the hides holding each hand. Her hands fell limply and she started to collapse. I picked her up gently and carried her to the porch and lay her down on the rough floor. Her body had been cruelly treated with cuts and bruises all over. Even though she had an even tan, she was burned from exposure. I gently fed her more water which she accepted as I spooned it slowly to her.

She groaned out something and weakly pointed into the cabin.

I said, "I will check," and stood up. I walked through the small porch and went inside the cabin. There was a woman on the floor who was dead. It appeared that she had been raped and beaten to death. I covered her body after closing her eye lids. I went back outside and shook my head sadly.

She teared up. I could hear her cry softly. I was sad for her but I was too late to help the other woman. I wasn't sure if I could help her. I wasn't sure I could help myself.

After a while, the crying stopped and she looked at me. I had brought out a cover from the cabin and laid it gently over her nude body trying to be gentle and not hurt her further. She looked up at me and asked what sounded like a question.

I stared for a moment and then said, "I'm not really sure. I came from up the creek but don't know where I am now or how I got here."

She looked at me blankly.

I waved my arm around in a circle and said, "Where is here?"

"Cholka." She didn't look Slavic or Russian but who knew. I was no expert on ethnic looks.

I said, "Russky?"

She nodded slowly and launched into a round of gibberish. I shook my head. She stopped and gave me a small smile. I shook my head.

I asked, "Moscow?" She looked at me blankly. I tried again, 'Kiev?" She shook her head. I tried what little I knew of Spanish, French, and German with no results. "Ukraine?"

She nodded slowly and repeated my word with a slightly different pronunciation. She pointed north. That was progress of sorts. If I was guessing correctly, then I was in the southern area of Russia around the Caspian and Black Seas. How had I gotten here? What had happened to me?

I now knew where I was, sort of. It was half way around the world from Atlanta. I don't know if that helped or not. I decided not to ask anything further at this time. I looked around and saw a handmade shovel. I went to it and looked around. "Grave?" I inquired. She looked troubled again but pointed toward a corner of the clearing. I saw a wooden cross there and went over. The lettering was Cyrillic and the numbers, if that's what they were, looked strange to me as did the letters.

I looked around and figured where a reasonable place would be to put a fresh grave. As I began to dig, she came over and motioned me to the other side of the grave. She showed me where to dig and I started. The ground was not very hard and I soon had a four foot hole dug for the woman's burial. I went into the cabin and wrapped the woman in a skin blanket and gently carried her body to my hastily dug grave. I gently placed her in it, said a prayer for the woman I would never know, and began to shovel the dirt in on top of her as gently as I could. The captive watched my every move. When I finished, I went to the woodpile and took two pieces of wood and some hide and tied them in the shape of a cross and pushed it into the ground near the head of the grave.

I then came back to the porch and drank some water and rested a moment. Then I stood again and went over to Buckskin and grabbed an arm. I drug him into the brush and left him. I kicked dirt over the blood, feces, and urine on the ground. I also retrieved my spear from his body. I figured I might need it in the future. I had just decided that however I got here, I was here and would have to start from here. My understanding of Russia and this geographical area was sketchy. I wondered to myself if there were really areas this backward there, or here, as the case might be.

That led me to think of my dad. He would be distressed with me missing and, though he had some buddies, he and I were close. He would be lonely until I returned. I thought about Robin for a moment but discarded that thought as unproductive. Our relationship was barely a year old and probably wouldn't make a second. We were each good looking to the other and enjoyed eaach others' company in Atlanta. However, she didn't like the outdoors like I do and that, again, would be the end of us as a couple.

My dad troubled me. I knew he would be asking the same question I was asking. What had happened to me?

For the rest of this story, you need to Log In or Register